Jackey Jackey (d. 1854)

Forgotten Aboriginal hero of Cape York exploration

Jackey Jackey (d. 1854)

Jackey Jackey (d. 1854)
Photographer: Reproduction © Courtesy of the Mitchel Library, State Library of NSW

Jackey Jackey was the real hero and the sole survivor of Edmund Kennedy’s exploration of Cape York Peninsula in 1848. The first leg of the expedition was to traverse along the east coast from Rockingham Bay (north of Hinchinbrook Island) to Albany Island at the tip of Cape York Peninsula. In the manner typical for the colonial period Jackey was known under his English nickname, no one bothered to learn about his real name and family. A reference to his homeland in the Muswellbrook area in Hunter Valley, suggests that he could have been a Wonnarua or Geawegal man.

We don’t know under what circumstances Jackey was persuaded to join an expedition so far from home. He was probably aged 14 at the time, but highly valued for his hard work, excellent bushcraft and prudence. When conditions quickly become tough, men were falling sick and discomfort turned into deprivation, Jackey was the strongest and most reliable member of the expedition. He was one of the five men of the advance party, attempting a desperate march north for a distance of about 1000 kilometres, to reach the Albany Island to meet the supply ship. He and Kennedy nearly completed this arduous journey. Entangled in the swamps of Escape River they were attacked by local Aborigines. Jackey nursed mortally wounded Kennedy, who died in his arms only 30 kilometres from their destination.

Subsequently Jackey guided a rescue party which failed to recover Kennedy’s remains. However, Thomas Wall’s remains were eventually recovered and buried on Albany Island. Wall, who frequently collected specimens for the Australian Museum and accompanied Kennedy on his earlier expedition to Victoria River in 1847, perished on this occasion.

Jackey was honoured for his fortitude and loyalty to the explorer. Sir Charles FitzRoy, the governor of New South Wales, presented him with a silver breast-plate in recognition of his achievements and service. This breast-plate somehow made its way to the collections of the Australian Museum where it was displayed for public viewing, according to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald of 1 October 1868.

It appears that Jackey, like many Aboriginal people before and after him, was unable to find a satisfactory role either in his own or European society. Tragically, attracted to drinking, he died in an accident on an overland journey near Albury in 1854, aged probably 20 or 22. A copy of his portrait, a lithograph made by artist Charles Rodius in 1849, is kept at the Mitchell Library in Sydney http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/item/itemDetailPaged.aspx?itemID=404751

Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager
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